Under Indiana premises liability law, property owners are generally not liable for injuries caused to trespassers. However, through Indiana’s attractive nuisance doctrine, a property owner may be liable when a trespassing child is injured on their land due to a dangerous object that attracted the child onto the landowner’s property. A recent state appellate decision illustrates the attractive nuisance doctrine.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s recitation of the facts giving rise to the case, the plaintiff and some friends entered a construction site after hours. The teens spent several hours at the site, drinking whiskey and smoking marijuana. Evidently, the construction crew had left several pieces of heavy construction equipment on-site. Several of the pieces of equipment had the keys in the ignition. The plaintiff initially removed one set of keys to prevent his friends from starting the machine and potentially hurting themselves. However, as the group was leaving, the plaintiff climbed inside a machine and began to drive it up a floodwall. The machine flipped over, and the plaintiff was seriously injured.
The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the construction company, arguing that leaving the construction site unfenced created an attractive nuisance. In a pre-trial motion, the defendant argued that no reasonable juror could find that the plaintiff, a 16-year-old male, did not realize the risk playing with the machine. The court granted the defendant’s motion, and the plaintiff appealed.
The Court’s Decision on Appeal
On appeal, the case was affirmed in favor of the defendant. The court first noted that the plaintiff was a trespasser, and as a result, he was unable to recover under general theories of premises liability. However, the court recognized an exception for situations in which an attractive nuisance on a defendant’s property caused injury to a child.
The court explained that, to establish a claim under an attractive nuisance theory, a plaintiff must show:
- the dangerous condition is in a place where the defendant knows children may gain access by trespassing;
- the condition is one that the defendant knows to be dangerous;
- the child, because of his youth, did not realize the dangers involved in entering the defendant’s property and “intermeddling” with the dangerous object;
- the risk of danger posed by the hazard outweighs the convenience to the defendant of maintaining the hazard; and
- the defendant failed to exercise reasonable care to remedy the hazard.
Here, the court held that the plaintiff could not be found to have been unaware of the risks associated with using a piece of heavy construction equipment. The court reasoned that the plaintiff was a licensed driver in the 11th grade who maintained mostly Bs and Cs in school. The court also pointed to the fact that the plaintiff initially knew to remove the keys from the machine to prevent his friends from potentially hurting themselves. Thus, the court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s case.
Have You Been Injured on Another’s Property?
If you or someone you love has recently been injured while on another’s land, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through an Indiana premises liability lawsuit. At the law firm of Parr Richey Frandsen Patterson Kruse, we represent Indiana injury victims and their families in all types of injury claims, including slip-and-fall accidents and other premises liability cases. To learn more, call 888-532-7766 to schedule a free consultation today.
Assumption of the Risk in Indiana Personal Injury Cases, Indiana Injury Lawyer Blog, February 12, 2019
Federal Appellate Court Overseeing Northern and Southern District of Indiana Issues Opinion in Warehouse Injury Case, Indiana Injury Lawyer Blog, January 22, 2019